Sulaiman Abu Ghayth was spokesman for the terrorist group al-Qaeda.(Photo: Al-Jazeera via AP)
(USA TODAY) -- The son-in-law of former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, described by U.S. officials as a figure akin to a mob family "consigliere,'' is in U.S. custody and has been charged in a conspiracy to kill Americans, according to federal court papers unsealed late Thursday.
Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, who served as the strident spokesman for the terror organization in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, is likely to make his initial court appearance Friday in New York.
"No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice,'' Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "To violent extremists who threaten the American people and seek to undermine our way of life, this arrest sends an unmistakable message: There is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice because we will do everything in our power to hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law.''
Federal law enforcement officials did not elaborate on the details of Ghayth's arrest, but Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who first confirmed the operative's capture, said he was taken into custody a week ago in Jordan.
"I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan and President Obama for their capture,'' King said in a written statement. "I trust he received a vigorous interrogation and will face swift and certain justice."
King, who is on the House intelligence committee, said the "propaganda statements" issued by Ghayth and bin Laden that lauded the attacks in 2001 are "alone enough to merit the most serious punishment."
If convicted, Ghayth faces a maximum punishment of life in prison.
From May 2001 to 2002, according to federal authorities, Ghayth "served alongside" bin Laden, issuing fiery written proclamations and appearing in videos on behalf of the terror group.
On the day after the attacks in 2001, federal authorities said, Ghayth warned the United States and its allies that a "great army is gathering against you."
About a month later, he suggested that a campaign of suicide hijackings, similar to the Sept. 11 assaults, would continue.
"The storms shall not stop," he said, "especially the airplanes storm."
In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to federal court documents, Ghayth served as a trusted associate of bin Laden, urging terror recruits gathered in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to swear their allegiance to the al-Qaeda chief.
Soon after Sept. 11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which was al-Qaeda's base of operations, Ghayth fled to Iran, along with other members of the terror group, U.S. authorities said.
Terror analyst Evan Kohlmann said that although Ghayth - a Kuwaiti citizen - assumed a very public role for al-Qaeda immediately after the attacks in 2001, it is unclear what role, if any, he had in al-Qaeda's operations while in Iran.
"He was once a pretty high-profile figure," Kohlmann said. "But (while in Iran), I don't think he was in the middle of sensitive, operational discussions.''
Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies, said Ghayth - one of the few recent al-Qaeda leaders to be captured alive - may be able to provide important information on al-Qaeda's relationship with Iran and how the terror group moved money and people throughout the region.
"Ghayth was not a field marshal, but he could certainly shed light on that part of the operation," Hoffman said.
Assistant FBI Director George Venizelos, the bureau's top agent in New York, said Ghayth held "a key position in al-Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime."
"He used his position to persuade others to swear loyalty to al-Qaeda's murderous cause," Venizelos said.